On Horror in the Suburbs
"Actually, I consider myself a realist." (Gregory Crewdson)
"Ultimately, what I'm probably most afraid of is reality." (Gregory Crewdson)
Since the mid-1980s Gregory Crewdson has been developing photo series of intoxicating beauty, which are fundamentally confusing and disturbing. Beneath the complex, detailed idylls of his pictures lurk inexplicable mysteries.
Under the title Early Works (1986–1988) he produced a series of small photographs simply of oddly secretive people in their private homes, without any more arrangement or staging. In his second series, Natural Wonder (1992–1997) Crewdson constructed thoroughly composed studio sets, using, for instance, stuffed birds and small animals, which follow their own rituals and laws and thus elude human understanding. He placed severed limbs in settings where nature has overrun the human environment and developed an uncontrolled life of its own. His visual vocabulary lies somewhere between a fairy-tale-like romanticism and the classic horror aesthetic, primarily influenced by David Lynch and Steven Spielberg. The series Fireflies (1996), in which Crewdson photographed swarms of fireflies, is also about the fascination with nature as a mythical zone.
In the small-format black-and-white series Hover (1996–1997) Crewdson looks down from above onto strangely apathetic, apparently confused human beings whose world order is slowly coming apart. Here, he formulates his central theme for the first time: the hidden abysses of the suburban American soul. He visualizes the unconscious dark sides of the human psyche in puzzling scenes, in which “before” and “after” remain unclear and mysterious.
With the series Twilight (1998-2002), Dream House (2002), and Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) hidden forces and dark energies have finally arrived in living rooms and small New England towns. His specific use of light allows him to transform scenes from everyday life into cryptic, baffling settings. The melancholy of the large-format color scenes of domestic isolation and speechlessness recall the works of Edward Hopper.
With increasingly more support from assistants, his own team, and the kind of effort necessary for a film production, Crewdson creates his single frame movies, often working for weeks on site and in the studio. A single image seems to represent the narrative breadth of an entire dramatic film, albeit without a beginning or end. In this way he continues to develop the traditional staged photograph, which has been one of the most important expressive forms in contemporary fine arts photography since Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall. His work method, which involves digital composition, is also similar to Jeff Wall’s.
The series Sanctuary (2009-2010) has a surprising effect. Using only natural light, Crewdson shot black-and-white photographs of pillars, gates, and ruined walls at a former Cinecittà film set near Rome. Applying a documentary approach, he avoided interfering with the location, while at the same time remaining faithful to his theme—for these pictures are also about beauty and sorrow, reality and fiction, nature and artifice, photography and film.
February 21, 2012 Monika Wolz